[gamechef 2011] reviews

I’m going to record some of my reviews here, as they were getting a bit long for the original thread.

Shakespeare’s Daughters

I like the game’s clear focus: a three player game that’s a coming of age story. The ingredients are clearly available at the core of the game. (Exile is somewhat awkward in its context, and may be worth changing post-Game-Chef, but this is to be expected.) The Shakespeare content is at the fore, though there isn’t much Shakesepare-specific here. With more time, you could either delve deeper in the kinds of Shakespearean details you want to the girls to be exiled into, or go deeper into the lives of Shakespeare’s daughters, or perhaps consider detaching from a Shakespearean focus and emphasize the exploration of “coming-of-age” with diving into fiction. This combination is compelling to many readers.

The dice system (with dice representing the Girl and the World) generates some conflict outcomes and thematic fuel in a single roll, so I think there’s something there. Can the Girl die trigger multiple lessons at once, or are lessons only triggered if they make sense, fictionally? You want to make sure it always makes sense to fight some Lesson in the context of the game.

Take another look at the overall pacing of gaining Growth, reducing Lessons, and getting to endgame. Completely conquering a Lesson of strength N requires (((N+1) x N) / 2) total Growth to be earned, and each Lesson must be solved in order to get to endgame; however, a Lesson can only be fought against if the dice rolls under the level of the Lesson (meaning that one Lessons are lower enough, it becomes less likely you’ll get a chance to finish them off). I wanted to highlight this so that you could hack on these to make the mechanics work out like how you want. (So, what do you want the pacing to be like for gaining Growth, learning Lessons and leaving the game?)

Aside from the mechanics/endgame, I’d suggest becoming more specific and prescriptive about what you’d like the game to be about: when you imagine the game being done “right”, what kinds of players and setting seem best to you? Which Shakesepareean encounters should the players be exiled into? What are some examples of Lessons and Bad Habits, and what kinds of events will the Girls be rolling dice for? You have a vision of how gameplay should look ideally, and should elaborate more on this.

A Midsummer Night’s Scheme

Everyone enjoys some fae shenenagans, and this game is about conflict on the border between faerie mischief and connections to the mortal world. It seems that there’s a potentially flexible tone in terms of content: you mention gameplay suggestions for family play, but this could also be good for setting up some serious drama alongside the pranks. The scenes have a clear focus: pranking the mortals, and thus racking up enough points to avoid exile (or, possibly, to determine the nature of your exile). It’s a solidly formed game.

The resolution system is at its heart a die pool relating to the only stats that matter, being the faerie abilities; most die rolls are made against the Oberon & Titania, rather than against a difficulty per se. Does the dice roll necessarily map to the outcome of the glamour or effectiveness of the prank? It’s unclear, and it may be up to the SG (as you say that a prank may be unresolved over several scenes due to narrative logic), but that can be fine: it’s interesting if in fact task success is guaranteed, and the important thing is how it relates towards progress to the end outcome (being: impressing the sovereigns). (Minor quibble: I think the elemental stats aren’t very clear here; as it turns out, Cruel, Satirical, Witty & Deceitful are perfectly clear descriptors for the sovereigns, so these may be more appropriate.)

I would worry that which abilities to use would become a matter of using your strongest ability (relative to that of the Sovereigns). The Forsworn mechanic is interesting in this context; aside from narrative logic of creating your own challenges, it gives one a reason make some of their rolls slightly less effective in order to gamble for greater points. (I think it makes sense to be Forsworn, in some fashion, in most every scene.)

Still, it would be good to make sure faeries have some reason to use their less powerful abilities. It would be better still to make the pranks, narration and fictional elements have implications in other ways. For example: how does the prank I narrated affect my die roll? (i.e. avoid a “parlor narration” situation) Can we recognize certain pranks as being more truly Cruel, Satirical, Witty or Deceitful? (Perhaps some reward dice mechanic from the SG could work here.) How will the consequences of one prank affect others? A challenge in revisions of your game would be to make sure the fiction of the game impacts the mechanics (so that the dice rolls and points do not become to abstracted from what’s happening).

Finally: in an expanded text, it woudl be nice to see more examples of scene constraints would help (one-prank rule, when to roll, when a SG should cut a scene, etc). Leaving them out in the GC version makes much sense, but I’m all for giving clear player instructions about how to create the vision of play you have.

I like this game, and I think the gameplay will encourage a competitive display of pranks, both cruel and witty.

You and Me

I appreciate that the game is taking on a gripping subject: an obligatory relationship where both parties have a dysfunctional relationship with each other. It has a vivid and iconic zodiac-based “map” of character traits. The gameplay happens over this map, as players spend resources to “flip” key traits to be more to their own liking.

I will challenge you to open up the gamespace a bit. You make clear that “participation is failure”, and I have some problem with this. In games with a strong editorial bent, it’s important that the message of a game be uncovered – or better yet, questioned – in gameplay. If the game is set up to be an exercise in demonstrating how terrible it is to change on another, what will be revealed through gameplay, other than our ability to imagine some terrible dysfunctional exchanges? (As entertaining or cathartic as this may be.) If the game can provide the misguided *promise* of a mutually agreeable ending, while providing problematic options such that a bad ending is possible, then this opens up the possibilities for the palyers.

I like the use of a bidding system as each tries to lay claim upon the other, and tying the size of a bid to periods of time (day/week/month/year) is clever. It’s possible that large spans of time will suddenly pass as the players take their turns bidding, which has interesting implications. Playtesting should help find out if the bidding system is good and remaining unstable. (Previous open-bid systems I’ve seen can sway towards determinism, so that’s a thing to look out for.)

The players’ turns are built around making formal statements, and I would challenge the designer to let that grow into a more full-fledged scene. If the players’ reduce their turns to an exchange of formal statements and chips, they’re not playing to their full potential. If you can back these rules with more in-game details – and tie that extra fiction to the players’ options – then things become more complicated.

Fates

This game is focused on a single pivotal decision of a youthful protagonist, and the possible far-reaching consequences of that choice. It could be described as being a kind of structured freeform experience: there’s a clear progression of scenes to initially present the core conflict of the drama, and portray alternate paths to go forward in this drama. The game text, on its own, seems to have a lighter emphasis on Shakespearean content, but the settings-specific material brings this content back into the spotlight.

I like the focus of this drama, the way in which different narrative responsibilities are delegated, and the way the non-linear flow of time is used to provide multiple perspectives on a given event. (It’s fair to say that when a Companion character is portraying a possible future, they’re something of an unrealiable narrator.) It’s interesting to draw from one’s childhood memories explicitly to create the part of the companion character, especially because that player will have to incorporate a Nature from the other player into this character.

One challenge in this game is that it is vague in parts, and expects much to be filled in by the players: not just techniques (aggressive scene framing/cutting, negotating scenes without negotiating outcomes) but also the content: coming up with whole scenes and backdrops, a taut personal decision, vivid companion characters, and the like. The players have to generate a lot of content for the game, and have to consciously make sure it’s all relevant and worth of serving the conflict at hand. I think this is challenging in practice. For one thing, I think coming up with the right kind of pivotal choice – one that really is represented by two different friends and has instant, permanent, life-changing consequences – will be hard to do delicately. Then again, games such as “Hero’s Banner” do just this.

For me, the Settings Sheets (trappings, natures, and certainly scene starter cards) provide a great deal here. From reading purely the procedures, I was a bit lost at how to proceed, but drawing from either of the settings instantly grounds the activity and gives a clear sense of what kind of genre we’re playing in. That was quite interesting to me. On one hand, because different settings could result in quite divergent games, and because you could build upon these settings to create more structure if you choose to do so. I wonder if some suggested “choices”, fitting with the themes of a setting, would be appropriate. For this especially I wouldn’t want to rely on a strict list, but it may help.

It’s an interesting game, and it’s nice to games produced by a team effort (as in this case).

One thought on “[gamechef 2011] reviews

  1. Hello Dev. I posted on the Game Chef site, but thought I would post here as well.

    Big thanks for the feedback on Fates: You definitely captured much of both its strong and weak points quite well.

    I would be interested in continued discussion, of Fates, Game Chef, design or whatever. If you care to engage with a design rookie, my yahoo dot com email address is ‘jjspackle’.

    By the by, we met a couple years ago at GPNW, playing Ribbon Drive and some short Nordic games. Well met again!

    Rock on.

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